Second, I don’t claim to be a doctor or nutritional research scientist. But this article is based on science.
Third, whilst I haven’t appeared on the front cover of Men’s Health (yet), I have put the stuff in this article into effect in my own life and the results shocked me. In a good way.
Food is a big and important subject. We all eat it but The Escape Artist suspects that many people are not getting value from their food spending.
Paradoxically, it turns out that some of the cheapest foods (e.g. vegetables) are the best for you, health-wise. If we ate like we were a bit poorer, we would be healthier, slimmer and happier (as well as richer).
The Escape Artist has previously solved the obesity crisis and is therefore puzzled as to why a lot of people still seem to struggle with their weight in the UK (please don’t get me started on the USA).
Some personal history: between the ages of 21 and about 40, I fought a losing battle to keep my weight down (or more accurately, to keep the fat off). The irony was that I did a lot of cardio based exercise: running and cycling in particular. This exercise no doubt had some health benefits but it didn’t stop me being over-weight .
I was never obese but I have to be honest with you, dear readers, that I had muffin tops and was more keg than six-pack. Funnily enough, at the same time I loved savoury carbohydrates including but not limited to: Pies, Pasta, Pringles, Pizza, Pasties and Pot Noodles.
At this point, those of you with Sherlock Holmes style powers of deduction may detect a link between my diet and being over-weight. If so, you are way ahead of me…at least until age 40 when I discovered The New Evolution Diet*. Before then I failed to join the dots. As Homer Simpson might say….Doh!
But to be fair to me, no one in authority was telling me to cut out the carbs. The problem is that most of the nutrition advice we’ve been given over the past 50 years is wrong.
The main way in which its wrong is that it doesn’t work. But its also wrong in the sense that its often been inconsistent, confusing and biased.
To illustrate, here is a summary of conventional diet advice:
- Reduce your calorie intake
- Burn more calories by doing lots of exercise
- Use willpower to eat less
- Eat 5 pieces of fruit or vegetables a day
- Avoid fat
- Eat plenty of carbohydrates (e.g. potatoes, rice, bread)
- Count calories: the number consumed matters more than the food type
- Supplement your vitamin intake via pills
Most of this is ineffective nonsense. It is the shit they tell you at Fat Fighters.
It’s hard to imagine a less effective way to help people lose weight than to tell them:
- eat less and deprive themselves
- think about food all the time
- eat their greens like they are something to be endured
- look forward to their “treats” (Cake!)
- oh by the way its really difficult, so you’ll probably fail
But this is the frame of reference that most people in the Prison Camp have been given.
The Escape Artist believes in freedom and doesn’t like being told what to do by government, quangos, the media, advertising, medical committees, schools and large food corporations.
I am also wary of the advice given by scientists funded by government or the food manufacturers. Even university researchers need funding and if a breakfast cereal manufacturer is paying for the study, don’t you think that might make you pause before accepting the findings that New Chocolate OatyflakesTM are good for you?
The Escape Artist believes in the scientific process. But whilst science can provide evidence, I agree with Scott Adams (creator of Dilbert) that for the last 50 years or so science has mostly failed us in the area of nutrition.
So let’s talk about what works. To be more precise, what works for me. It may or may not work for you. But please don’t assume it’s wrong until you have tried it for yourself.
1. Understand evolution
We humans evolved over millennia to thrive on the natural foods available in our environment.
Genetically we remain essentially identical to a caveman of 30,000 years ago. Prior to the agricultural revolution we ate things that grew wild (fruits, vegetables, seeds, nuts, berries etc) or things that ran, swam or flew (game, birds, fish). So our bodies are very well-adapted to eating these types of foods.
Isn’t it plausible that we are poorly-adapted to live on the modern diet of processed foods made in factories?
Wheat, farmed rice and other agricultural products have only been around for about 10,000 years since the agricultural revolution. Worse, crisps, fizzy drinks, sweets and other industrial foods have only been around for a couple of hundred years. This is a fraction of a nano-second in evolutionary time. We have not had time to evolve to do well on that stuff.
2. Have a vision of success
In order to get great results, you need to visualise those results…and really want them.
When I was at college I got in shape from rowing training so I remember what “success” looked like. For others it might be getting down to the same weight as your wedding day or fitting into a particular item of clothing. Or wanting to look like Brad Pitt in Fight Club. Whatever works for you.
After college, I entered the Prison Camp and started to put on weight. I still wanted to be slim and have some muscle definition…I just thought that it wasn’t possible whilst getting older and holding down a job. Which brings us to number 3…
3. Ditch limiting beliefs
From 21 until 40, I assumed that being slim was not possible for someone with my genetic inheritance, age and a full-on office job that included travel and eating on the go.
It turns out that this was a limiting belief – something that was untrue that nevertheless held me back. Perhaps I told myself this to let me “off the hook” and evade responsibility for my own actions?
The propaganda all around you in the Prison Camp reinforces our limiting beliefs. People talk as if getting fat is a natural and inevitable part of ageing. This is bullshit.
One thing that helped me ditch this limiting belief was seeing a striking example. One summer holiday, we were renting the cottage next to a farmhouse in rural France owned by an old British guy. At first glance he looked like the archetypal soft middle class Brit in his sixties that had retired to France with his wife.
But he ate natural foods and did a lot of manual labour like wood chopping, building fences etc. One warm day he walked past with his top off and holy fuck, the guy was ripped like Rambo. This got me thinking about what might be possible for me as someone much younger.
4. Accept only the best
Self-deprivation does not work.
We are constantly surrounded by food choices. Choice and temptation are infinite in modern society. But willpower is like a cheap battery that runs out before long.
So rather than rely on willpower, we need to make choices where we put ourselves first. So frame those choices not as denying yourself treats but rather as only accepting the best, natural food for yourself. Paradoxically, the best food for you health wise is amongst the cheapest.
5. Eat more
The Escape Artist likes food. So I eat a lot of it; as much as I want. This is how we would have lived in our natural environment. After a productive hunt, cavemen would not have counted calories, they would have eaten until they were full.
Its amazing how much high calorie natural high fat food I am able to eat without getting fat. I douse food in olive oil or butter. I eat avocado, olives, peanuts, cream, eggs etc etc. Another paradox – eating fat does not make us fat.
I think it’s almost impossible for a normal person to get obese eating natural foods. Try getting fat by eating as much salmon, brocolli and spinach as you can and let me know how you get on.
6. Understand addictive behaviours
It is really, really hard to lose weight on a diet that involves lots of carbohydrate, especially processed carbohydrates. Our bodies crave energy rich foods and in our natural ancestral environment, pure sugar and other forms of refined carbohydrate were not available to us.
Speaking as a former carb addict, there is something about that stuff that defies moderation. Eating processed carbs does not satisfy us for long. Our bodies quickly break down carbohydrate into simple sugars. A bowl of pasta eaten is just a bowl of sugar inside us in 20 minutes time. The sugar rush wears off and a few hours later you are looking for your next hit.
Pringles used the advertising slogan “Once you pop, you can’t stop“. Like all the best advertising, this takes a fundamental underlying truth about the product and makes a selling point of it.
Trying to eat addictive foods in moderation is a bit like trying to take heroin in moderation. Don’t put yourself in a situation where you have to say no. Instead, get that stuff out of your house and your line of sight.
For some people, eating junk is a form of self-medication for some underlying emotional trauma. Diet advice will probably never help those people; they need to identify and deal with the underlying emotional issue.
7. It’s hard to exercise yourself slim
In the Prison Camp I got into the habit of long periods of cardio. I would go out for long runs or for hours on my bike. I found this therapeautic and it helped me unwind from work.
I still enjoy long runs and cycle rides. But they don’t help me lose weight.
My evidence for this is when I cycled the length of France, spending all day every day on a bike for over a week. I must have burnt a gazillion calories with no noticeable weight loss resulting. My appetite responded by cranking up to ensure that I got enough food to fuel myself. I came home weighing exactly the same as before.
Exercise is essential for living a good life…but the interesting thing is that if you just want to be slim, you don’t need to do much exercise at all.
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